And it was pretty obvious when we joined the noon rush along Shaw Avenue in northeast Fresno that plenty of panhandling goes on and the traffic is rushing right by. The median island we first encountered was being worked by Joseph Castro, one of a group of panhandling regulars near the Fashion Fair Mall. They take turns using 'their' spot, "We give each other thirty minutes at a time you know?"
The same scene can be found all over Fresno. And it starts as soon as they leave wherever they slept the night before, "We get up early in the morning, role up, you know, and do this for the day, you know, until night time."
That won't happen much longer. In two weeks a new city ordinance will outlaw being in the medians without a city permit. FPD Sgt. Bruce Owen stopped to visit with this group and give them a small flyer that explains a new city ordinance that bans their activity, "The public is gonna demand that we issue these tickets and we're gonna issue the tickets. So I'm giving you a warning, I'll give you two weeks notice the law is coming. Please comply with it, find another way to get your money, I know times are tough."
This group of self described homeless panhandlers listened but the 50 bucks a good day here brings is worth the risk, they say. And the fines that range from 2-hundred fifty for the first ticket and up to a thousand dollars for repeat offenses. Castrol says it won't deter him, "That's all good with the cops but its not good money there, you know, it's just better money on the medians."
Sgt. Owen cautions that panhandlers in the medians are often under the influence of drugs or alcohol and are earning a risky living, "We've been lucky so far that nobody has stepped of the medium two feet and been hit car at 40 miles an hour and that's truly what we're trying to prevent."
On April 17th, 2010 the warnings end and the ticketing begins throughout Fresno.